It’s Oscar week!
That means it's the time movie lovers live for. For them it’s the Olympics, the SuperBowl, and the World Series all rolled into one, the Grand Poobah of awards shows.
And who better to speak to that love of film than those who make movies themselves? So the Transplants to Phoenix Examiner interviewed six up and coming directors/producers from Arizona’s film community. In part one, we get their take on this year’s Oscar nominees and their personal favorite directors and performances.
First, the players:
Ruben Angelo, a Screen Actors Guild member, began his performance career at the age of five. While there are many credits under his belt as an actor, in 2011 he founded his own production company, Rangelo Productions, whose current docket includes a TV series, four feature films, and several commercials. Outside of producing, he is equally excited to complete several leading acting roles this year in three feature films. He is currently working on the feature-length film Grief.
Marcelo Dietrich is involved in producing and writing. He’s also directed one documentary and is in pre-production for another. He writes for an entertainment news program, a documentary series which he also produces (both with Rubber Ducky Producktions), and an entertainment, fashion and lifestyle magazine, while also employed as a writer and producer for a local TV station. He’s looking to secure funding for a feature film he wrote and will direct. With the help of his agent, Gail McCauley of Arizona Model and Actor Management, he acts when they find projects that captivate him. His (trademarked) motto is "Working in production isn't my goal- it's my purpose."
Austin Tyler Lee made his first film at the ripe old age of 13, attempting a civil war short for a history class. Although he says it was “awful” (You could see cars in the background!), he kept going and today has his own production company, Infinity Awakened, which has produced and directed films, corporate videos and commercials. His newest film, "A New Leaf", is a funny and fast-moving short inspired by the styles of Mel Brooks and Monty Python. He believes “A lot of people have loves and passions and I feel very lucky to be able to pursue mine as far as I can go.”
Travis Mills is a writer, director and producer who started his production company, Running Wild Films, in 2010 with partner Gus Edwards. The name they chose for their company is very appropriate because this prolific filmmaker has barely come up for air since. He’s already produced two feature-length films, "The BIG Something" and "The Detective’s Lover", and has other features in production. He’s also directed and produced a plethora of short films. Last year he successfully raised over $10,000 in a Kickstarter.com funding campaign, to make 52 shorts in the 52 weeks of 2013. Mills studied film at ASU and credits what he learned there from English teacher Paul Cook as one of the best things to come from that experience, “He showed me the basics for what has become my firm ground as a storyteller.”
Kevin R. Phipps is a director who has been working in the industry for about seven years, four of them full-time. He was a comic book colorist for GI Joe and X-Men for a bit and did computer animation before that. He is proudest of running a Meisner acting studio. He and his three coaches are doing something about bringing quality to the state of Arizona. He “aims to inspire people wherever he goes and to find and build a connection with the people because that is all that matters.” He is also currently working with Ruben Angelo on the film "Grief".
Cory Rowe got into the Arizona movie industry over twelve years ago and began as a writer. Over the past couple of years he’s become more actively involved in filmmaking by doing a couple of short films and getting into directing, which he taught himself how to do his own research. He wrote his first feature-length film in middle school and though he admits the quality of his scripts has come a long way since then, it was definitely his inspiration for getting into film. Rowe recently completed shooting the shorts "The Light Beneath the Door" and "The Reckoning", an homage to zombie films, and has several other projects in the works. He is also poised to begin work on the feature film "Euphorium: Genesis".
So let’s hear what these players have to say about the biggest game of make believe ever conceived—movies—and the Academy Awards.
Examiner: This year films like "Argo" and "Django Unchained" were nominated for best film while their directors were excluded from nominations. As a director, do you think it makes sense for a film to be considered one of the best, while its director is not equally recognized?
Lee: Yes, it totally makes sense. Making a movie is like guiding a ship. Sometimes the captain is not that great, but the crew still gets the ship there.
Mills: Yeah it makes sense. In Hollywood terms, and the Academy is a Hollywood institution, best picture is the overall award. A producer’s job is to bring all the elements together. The director may be responsible for directing the actors but not necessarily for choosing them. It goes to the producer, rightfully so in Hollywood thinking, because they bring the whole film together. They even hire the director. It's almost impossible to really judge directing in my opinion. And only directors should judge other directors. But I personally think that the argument about best picture going to the producer…is invalid.
Phipps: That's a tricky question, one that I don't have a clear answer to. I would venture to guess that you may have a great movie but that doesn't mean you were best director but again I would have to know exactly what they judge directors on. Is it the film overall? Or is it by their directing of performances or what? I don't know. But it seems unbalanced and that may be because the system itself is a little wonky.
Angelo: That is a very legitimate question. It's extremely odd when the director of a film nominated for best picture does not get chosen as a nominee for best director. I would have to say it comes down to the variables that each award group relies on for their selection process. Since best picture is based on the overall perhaps the Oscar selection panel weighs heavily on categories such as acting and overall vision in order to narrow down the nominees.
Rowe: Oh that is a tough question. A film is a director’s vision but for best picture it's the best film produced. The producers take the credit for best picture, not the director. So I can see how it can be a Catch-22, but from the Academy standpoint, it's how well it was produced.
Examiner: Who is your favorite current director and your favorite of all time?
Rowe: My favorite director of all time is Christopher Nolan. His vision is dark and eerie yet elegant and beautiful. Every shot is a beautiful piece of art.
Examiner: And your favorite Christopher Nolan film?
Rowe: There are quite a few. I enjoyed the "Batman" series, but I also loved "Inception", "The Prestige", and "Memento". So it's hard for me to pick a favorite when they are all good.
Dietrich: Favorite all time directors are (in no particular order) John Sayles, Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, M. Night Shyamalan, David O. Russell, Roman Polanski and Joel & Ethan Coen. They're not just "directors". They understand the structure of story. They're writers who (at times) direct the scripts they write. They work together with their cast and crew to convey their stories and its theme(s). They are what I call "storytellers". The themes of their films are eye-opening life lessons that improve mankind. As a multi-hyphenate filmmaker, this is what I strive to do.
Mills: Probably Werner Herzog all time. He's been making movies since the late 1960s and he has never lost an ounce of originality, freshness or passion. He is the most imaginative filmmaker today and has been for the last forty years. Current favorite is Kathryn Bigelow ("Zero Dark Thirty"). She's revolutionized her entire career with two films and she's telling non-flashy stories with a focus on character.
Lee: Stanley Kubrick. And also Spielberg, though I know it’s a cliché. Tom Hooper is my choice for this year ("Les Miserables").
Angelo: My favorite director currently is Guillermo del Toro. His artistry is simply amazing. As far as my favorite director of all time that would definitely depend on the genre but if I had to choose a consistent director that would be Stephen Spielberg. His ability to work across multiple film themes with epic proportions is the place I'd like to be someday.
Phipps: Jean-Pierre Jeunet for camera work and color and quirkiness. His work reminds me that there is still originality and fun to be had in film. Guillermo del Toro for the fact he can do these amazingly huge films and then come back down to do something smaller like "Pan’s Labyrinth". He was one of the first guys to keep the camera going at all times and prove that it wouldn't mess with the audience. He also works everything from themes, which I think everyone should be doing. And of course David Fincher. He peers into my soul with his films. He has no problem pushing the envelope but it’s not gratuitous. I like my films to be fantasy based in reality and I think all these filmmakers have a great style that sucks you into their world and suspends disbelief without hitting you over the head.
Examiner: If you could pick your personal choice for best actor or actress, and best picture, regardless of whether they were actually nominated, what would they be?
Angelo: My choice for best actor is Daniel Day-Lewis, best actress is Emmanuelle Riva ("Amour"), and best picture is "Lincoln".
Phipps: Well unfortunately I have only seen two of the male candidates. I think Daniel Day-Lewis is always top-notch. Hugh (Jackman) I think did a performance of his life so far in "Les Miz". But Daniel is always wow. For me it’s a toss up between "Argo" and "Lincoln". I really appreciated these two films which were history-related. That is very unlike me but both were awesome.
Mills: "Zero Dark Thirty", best picture. Matthew McConaughey, best actor. Jessica Chastain, best actress.
Examiner: Oh? Do you mean Matthew McConaughey for "Killer Joe"? That was intense.
Mills: More just overall. Lots of good performances. But if you had to pick one, that’s a fine one. He was good in everything this year.
Lee: The entire cast from "Les Miz". That movie was incredible.
Dietrich: I truly enjoyed them all but I really want to stress my love and appreciation for "Life of Pi". It is amazing! A story of a human being facing insurmountable odds and how they view and react to it is always going to be great! What's more, the way the film is formatted truly lends to brilliant story telling! It's nominated for eleven Oscars (Best Picture, Directing, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography (Production Design, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects, Original Score, Original Song) and I truly believe it should win all eleven.
Rowe: Actor I would say Leonardo DiCaprio for "Inception", great film! And picture I would say "Lincoln" to be honest. I can't help it, "Lincoln" is just that good!
Examiner: Is there a performance or film, which was nominated which was a big surprise to you? And why?
Angelo: I was quite surprised that "Silver Linings Playbook" was nominated for awards as in my opinion, although a good film, it was not as heavy as the rest.
Lee: "Silver Linings Playbook". I thought DeNiro was fantastic but I didn't think it was that great. Bradley Cooper played the same character as always. He just talked faster.
Rowe: Honestly, I am not surprised with the nominees this year. A lot of wonderful movies came out this past year.
Mills: I would say that all of the nominees are very predictable but two people were definitely left out, surprisingly so, who should have been nominated: Leonardo DiCaprio, who was a shining light in a bad movie ("Django Unchained") and Kathryn Bigelow, who did an incredible job of directing very difficult material.
Phipps: As far as Best Actress nominees I didn’t see any except for "Zero Dark Thirty" and I wouldn't say her performance was Oscar worthy yet. Very well could be in the future.
Examiner: Great and insightful answers all!
Stay tuned for part two of this discussion tomorrow, when the guys warm up to topics such as what they think of the Oscar show itself, their favorite past hosts, and how they’ll react when they win an Oscar of their own.
For a list of all of this year's nominees, visit Oscar’s official website.
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